3 apps for 3 different purposes, me and my Apple Pencil

in Tools & Tips, My Process

Illustration of three "apple pencils"

I’ve had the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro since they were released at the tail end of 2015. They've both been a joy to use – I love being able to read a two-page spread of a comic book on the large iPad, and the Pencil’s pointy tip is a welcome change from the fat-finger styluses I had before. As a cartoonist, I was also excited by its potential for creating illustrations. I was not disappointed, though it has taken a while to figure out which apps support Apple Pencil well and how their drawing engines work.

Here are the three apps I've settled on that I use for different purposes:

Notes by Apple

Example of Notes drawing

I doodle in Notes. (The drawing above was made with it.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, Notes is the most responsive to the Pencil – pen marks register almost instantaneously without lag, and it'll recognize even the smallest point or line in my drawings. Its interface is also unadorned and easy-to-use. Unfortunately, it only offers three brush types (pencil, pen, highlighter) and a very limited palette of 24 colors (10 of which are greys). If it had more colors I'd probably use it more, but even without that, it's still the most "fun" app to draw with.

Procreate by Savage Interactive

Example of drawings with Procreate

I paint and color in Procreate. (I make these recipe illustrations with it.) It's the high-powered iPad/Pencil drawing app that's prominently featured in the media and on the App Store. It has a bit of lag when I'm using the Pencil (versus almost no lag in Notes), but not so much that's a hindrance. Like Notes, Procreate's interface is solid, though it is relatively complicated due to its many added features: a wide variety of fully customizable brushes, multiple layer support (Notes only had the one), ability to adjust the hue/saturation/brightness of individual layers... the list goes on. Keep in mind though, Procreate is not an all-purpose tool that's built for digital painting. So there are no fill-to-color or text tools for example, which bodes poorly for comics.

Sketches by Tayasui

Sketches drawing example

I draw comics in Sketches. (I created this comic series with it.) Sketches is not as high-powered as Procreate, but is significantly more so than Notes. Of the apps that fall into this middle category, Sketches has several features that differentiate it: solid Apple Pencil support (with a similar split-second lag as Procreate), a fill-to-color tool, and its pen tool automatically smoothens/corrects hand-drawn lines, which is great for cartoon-style illustrations. Unfortunately, Sketches still has some minor problems: faulty palm rejection, a weak text tool, and only four layers are allowed. Despite these flaws (which will hopefully be corrected in future updates), Sketches is still my go-to app for making comics.


I should mention that for my longer graphic novel work, I'm continuing to use my Wacom tablet and laptop. My Wacom tablet still gives me more control than the Apple Pencil and zero lag because I connect it via USB. More importantly, my laptop still has a better suite of applications for authoring and handling long, complex projects. For now.

By Jason Li

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